Isaiah 56 describes the good news of coming salvation in terms of the inclusion of eunuchs in the house of God. Formerly, they were excluded from the assembly of Yahweh; they could not draw near to God (Deut 23:1). But why were they excluded?
As with many other exclusions from the assembly — for instance, the exclusion of those who have an emission or who have touched someone who is dead — the reason is symbolic, symbolic of something in the Old Creation so that when Christ comes and we enter the New Creation these exclusions no longer apply. Death results from sin, and if you touch someone dead it spreads so that you yourself are symbolically dead, and you may not bring that stench of death-as-a-result-of-man’s-sin into God’s presence. So too with the eunuch.
What is a eunuch? A eunuch is a man who is physically unable to beget, a man who by reason of damage to his organs of generation barren and fruitless. His fruitlessness symbolizes those who do not bear fruit to God’s glory, and, as Jesus teaches, those who do not bear fruit will be cut off and burned (John 15).
But now associate that with Mark 11:12ff. and the cursing of the fig tree. In my previous blog entry, I noted that Jesus, in his temple action, quotes from Isaiah 56 about his house becoming a house of prayer for all nations. This is not a statement about how it was always supposed to be, but about the salvation that was still future in Isaiah’s day. And Jesus makes it clear that that time of salvation is now here. But the context in Isaiah 56 also talks about the eunuch who is not to see himself as a withered tree. The fig tree that represents the fruitless temple and those who take refuge in it withers under Jesus’ curse, but when Jesus comes, eunuchs are no longer fruitless; they may enter God’s house and have a fruit better than sons and daughters and a name that will never die.
One step further: What’s the first reference to fig trees in the Bible? Genesis 3, where Adam and Woman sew fig leaves into garments with which they hide their genitals from each other. (Not from God: When he comes, they want something bigger to hide behind and so they hide behind the trees of the Garden.) Specifically, then, the first appearance of fig leaves is as garments that cover the source of man and woman’s fruitfulness.
The temple and those who use it as their hideout have fig leaves but no fruitfulness toward God. They are Adam and Woman, covering their fruitlessness. But Jesus exposes their fruitlessness. They are eunuchs who are banned from His house.